Congressional Term Limits Without a Constitutional Amendment

A bill has been introduced in an attempt to limit the time an elected representative would likely serve in Congress without requiring a Constitutional amendment.

Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL) wants term limits for Congress. That is something of a surprise as most Congressmen make a career out of remaining in Congress (often moving on to the Senate). Many become millionaires within a few years after their election and, of course, they also receive a pension under the Federal Employee Retirement System (FERS).

Congressman Rooney has introduced a bill (H.R. 5539) that would implement a form of term limits without a Constitutional amendment.

Term Limits Would Benefit the Country

The Florida Congressman believes term limits would benefit the country. In a press release, Congressman Rooney stated:

When my home state of Florida passed term limits, 76% of Sunshine State voters voted in favor. In fact, Florida is one of 15 states to currently have legislative term limits. This year, a nationwide poll conducted by McLaughlin & Associates found that 82% of voters support Congressional term limits, including 89% of Republicans, 83% of independents, and 76% of Democrats.

He also added:

Although 15 states have instituted term limits, the situation is more complicated at the federal level. Heretofore, federal term limit discussions have focused on proposals which require amending the Constitution. These well-intentioned efforts, in the form of at least 12 bills in the current session of Congress, with over 90 co-sponsors, are stymied by the arduous process of amending the Constitution.

Reducing Salary of Representatives After 6 Terms (2 Terms for the Senate)

Congressman Rooney has a new idea on how to institute a form of term limits without amending the U.S. Constitution.

This proposal offers a means of effectively putting capitated service, i.e. “term limits,” in place without amending the Constitution. The Act will reduce the salary of an elected Member of Congress to $1 a year after they serve six (6) consecutive terms in the House or two (2) consecutive terms in the Senate, and does not require a Constitutional amendment.

The Congressmen praises men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who refused to make public service their career but, instead, returned to private life or went on to serve in a different public capacity. His reverence for this attitude led to the introduction of the Thomas Jefferson Public Service Act at the end of this column.

About That FERS Annuity

So, in effect, if this bill were to become law, a person would not be prevented from serving more than six consecutive terms in the House or two consecutive terms in the Senate. His salary, however, would be reduced to $1 a year.

Presumably a person who has been in the House for 12 years would qualify for a federal retirement annuity under FERS at some point. The bill does address this. It would require “any service of that individual as a Member of Congress after the end of that sixth or second term (as the case may be) shall not be creditable service for purposes of an annuity….”

Opposition to Term Limits

He also notes there is organized opposition to term limits citing a Brookings Institute statement on the issue but notes that “I doubt many Americans who live outside of Washington, DC, would agree.”:

The Brookings Institute wrote recently that, in their opinion, “policymaking is a profession in and of itself,” that “crafting legislative proposals is a learned skill,” and that “the public is not best served if inexperienced members are making policy choices.”

He also notes that those who oppose term limits think it would put too much power in the hands of federal agencies (“unelected staff and bureaucracy”).

The Congressman also contends opponents of term limits believe a semi-permanent legislative class is the “best way Congress should function, despite how the Founders fought a revolution to get away from exactly this.”


Whether this approach would work if it should become law is, of course, open to question. Most elected representatives become wealthy while in office. A limitation on their salary could have an impact, but their salary may be a minor part of their ability to accumulate wealth, so some, perhaps many, would choose to remain in office and enjoy the other perks that go along with being an elected representative.

A Constitutional amendment would be a more conclusive solution. Obviously, that is difficult to accomplish and may be impossible in today’s fractious political environment.

The last Constitutional amendment was submitted by Congress to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789. The amendment became part of our Constitution on May 7, 1992. It had a record-setting ratification period of 202 years, 7 months, and 12 days.

Thomas Jefferson Public Service Act Final Bill by FedSmith Inc. on Scribd

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47